The following list highlights some of the most common and accepted practices for making your website “search engine friendly”. Please note that the following list is not in order of importance. Each and every item below is important and will contribute to the overall success of your SEO strategy:
- Develop a list of keywords and phrases – Keywords and phrases are search terms and natural language phrases that your customers might use when trying to find you while using a search engine. Typically customers use two to four word search terms, so you want to keep your terms short but specific. There are loads of resources, some right from the search engines themselves, that help you determine what your customers search for to find services like yours. More information on this topic will follow in a future article about Search Engine Marketing (SEM), but once you’ve determined your terms, these terms should be used within the content of your website. Repeating these words, in context, on different pages within your website will help the search engines understand that you’re an expert on that topic.
- Use intelligent anchors – an anchor tag is technical speak for a link. Suppose two websites both contained a link to another website that listed current stock information. The link on one website reads “click here” and the link on the other site reads “latest stock quotes”. Which do you think the search engine will understand more? Using the descriptive text within the link itself helps the search engine spiders understand that they can follow the link to get stock information.
- Make proper use of common descriptive content tags – Descriptive tags such as the various heading tags (i.e., H1, H2, etc.) and put your keywords in them. Without getting too technical, these HTML tags help point the search engines towards what’s important on a web page. Kind of like the topic sentence in a written paragraph.
- Use good page titles – Try not to use the same title on every page of your website. Name your web pages with the topic that they discuss. This helps the search engines understand what your web pages are about.
- If at all possible, try to use your keywords and phrases (developed in bullet #1) in the actual URL of your web page – For instance, www.mybarn.com/page1.html is not nearly as specific as www.mybarn.com/texas_breeding_stable_information.html. Both search engine users and the search engines themselves will have an easier time understanding the topic of the second URL. And don’t fret, this can still be done quite easily even with a dynamic site. I’ll even show you how to map dynamic links in a future article!
- Find outside websites that will link to yours – If a search engine repeatedly finds links to your website from other websites, they will begin to think of you as an expert on a particular subject. The more links you have to your website, the more “impressed” the engines are and therefore they will rank your higher. You’ll need to try to keep the tags on those other sites as descriptive as possible, as I pointed out in bullet # 1.
- Keep your content current – Continuously updating the information contained on your website is the best way to make sure that the search engines keep coming back. The more information you have on your website also gives the search engines more information to consume, and will therefore bolster your rankings.
- Don’t create images in place of text, especially for headers & titles – Search engines don’t “see” your website, at least not the way that you and I do when we use a web browser. They read the code behind the website, and therefore aren’t able to process what the human eye see’s within an image on the screen. So if you have a big picture of your business on your home page with the words “The Lowest Prices on Hand-Tied Fly Fishing Lures”, all the search engine see’s is the name of that image, and not the valuable words contained within it.
- Use Flash sparingly – Flash is a software tool used by web developers to animate pictures and text on screen. It represents the same challenges as images with text in that the search engines don’t see the Flash output; they simply see a reference to a file.
- Submit your website to the search engines – Don’t just rely on them to find you, tell them that you exist. In order of priority: Google, Yahoo, DMOZ, and MSN.
- Make use of META tags – META tags are bits of information at the top of every web page (not visible to your readers) that tell a search engine what it’s looking at. Things like a short description, the page title, and a list of keywords are important to the search engines. And don’t abuse these by listing your keywords and phrases over and over and over again. The search engines don’t like this and your ranking could suffer. Try to find a happy medium.
- Implement, evaluate, research, and implement – The SEO process is continuously evolving so you need to constantly improve your techniques to keep your site performing well. Analyze your results using tracking features like Google Analytics and continually review your keywords and their relevance to your customers. Make sure your website is well maintained, updated frequently, and kept current.
Confused? Well don’t feel so bad because you’re not alone. In fact, the SEO “experts” in many cases are just using their best guess because the search engines themselves don’t actually release exactly how their search engines work. Doing so represents a substantial risk to the profitability of Google or Yahoo for instance because they’d be giving away the trade secrets they’ve spent billions to develop. So the SEO experts have developed their methods through trial and error after trying numerous strategies.
In many cases, if you can afford it, bringing in an expert to help is a great idea. A sad fact facing many people who have paid good money for the development of their website is that their web developers built their website without taking good SEO practices into account. This means that no matter how great the website looks or works, the search engines will continually have a hard time working with it, or won’t leave your website having learned anything substantial that will help rank your site. Because the process of building a search engine friendly website is inherently technical, hiring someone who knows what they’re doing during the development stage is a good idea.
To use an analogy from above, this is exactly why I would open the Yellow Pages to find a plumber. Because while I might be able to muddle through fixing my own pipes with some help from Home Depot, a trained professional is going to do the job right the first time. With SEO the old adage really does apply:
It costs less to do it right than it does to do it over.